“The number of books being published in the U.S. has exploded. Bowker reports that over one million (1,052,803) books were published in the U.S. in 2009, which is more than triple the number of books published four years earlier (2005) in the U.S. (April 14, 2010 Bowker Report). More than two thirds of these books are self-published books, reprints of public domain works, and other print-on-demand books, which is where most of the growth in recent years has taken place. In addition, hundreds of thousands of English-language books are published each year in other countries. “ (Steven Piersanti, President, Berrett-Koehler Publishers. 2016)
New book titles published so far this year *
US – 300,000
UK – 185,000
Acquiring recent data is nigh impossible, some of the most current being 2014, but whatever the number, it presents a formidable climb to capture the attention of the reading public. Many people have shared all sorts of ingenious marketing tips to promote a book. As to these, pick your poison; however, promoting must start at the very foundation—the story—the basis for this eFile’s attempts to focus on the fundamentals of developing a good story. But what can be done to get the reader to open the cover and dip their toe into the story?
Think about any time you shopped for a book, not for a particular author or title, but a casual walk between the stacks—window shopping. What is the first thing that gets your attention? The cover. Without going into a long-winded exposition about covers, suffice it to say that it is the billboard that must grab the shopper’s attention. I don’t like “rules” that say you MUST do this or that to be successful. Many are personal and bogus, so, let’s consider this. Bright KIS. Bright colors attract and Keep It Simple. Simplicity helps to quickly suggest content. Do you think a shopper is going to spend a lot of time trying to decipher what the heck is being conveyed? Test this out for yourself at your favorite book-dealing haunt.
If you have designed a cover that attracts the shopper’s interest, they will take it off the shelf, and turn to the back. Here is your first sales pitch to briefly hint at what the story is about. This is the same as the long and short descriptions used to identify eBooks. The description is a writing art all to itself and should be studied. Like the amount of editing you spent (or should have spent), this takes time to properly craft. It can be a make or break promotion.
A well-written description that engages the shopper leads them to open it up, hopefully to the first page. (I’m not sure what the “open to anywhere” shopper is looking for other than trying to be a editor of sorts.) The opening paragraph, the first page, is the author’s big shot at capturing the shopper and making a sale. Not unlike the description, this writing is an art form. As such, there are several books written about this topic. The one that introduced me to this was Hooked by Les Edgerton.
Edgerton states that “An opening scene has ten core components: (1) the inciting incident; (2) the story-worthy problem; (3) the initial surface problem; (4) the setup; (5) backstory; (6) a stellar opening sentence; (7) language; (8) character; (9) setting and (10) foreshadowing.” He then goes on to explain each.
That’s a lot of stuff. For one paragraph? For the first page that may count 10-15 lines of text? It can be, so let’s take a look at look at a newspaper article. The first paragraph is called a “lead.” Generally restricted to 25-30 words, it quickly focuses on the most important pieces of information: what, when, where. The following paragraphs introduce the who, why, and how. With all articles presented on a page, it is designed to catch your attention and pull you into the story.
No, not all of Edgerton’s “Big 10” need be in that first paragraph and/or page. Pick and chose what will capture the shopper and turn them into a reader. That’s why this one element of the story is your opening shot, and it must be a good one, and why I will agonize and re-write the opening upwards of 20-30 times. (Really.)
To belabor the point, the first paragraph and/or first page is the hook. If it does not draw the reader into the novel, the writer better have an established reputation of spinning a great tale.
The epithet-framed argument between husband and wife down stairs was about Charlie, as usual, until Carter Pendergast stomped into the boy’s bedroom, Goliath wielding a wide, leather belt raised to strike. Seated on the bed trying to ignore the altercation by listening to a music CD turned up loud, the fifteen-year-old rolled away to the other side. As Carter came around to catch him, he leaped back over the bed, and out the front door, step-dad in screaming pursuit.
Despite being clad only in boxers, there was no hesitation sprinting down the street. Glancing over his shoulder to see how close Carter was behind, he failed to notice Marc Taylor’s Uncle Harun exit a pickup truck and step into the line of flight. The young man ricocheted off him as if hitting an immovable boulder to sprawl on the grass strip between sidewalk and curb. Carter was on him in an instant, arm raised to lay on the belt, but found it locked mid-air. Uncle Harun had him by the wrist. (end page 1, Herakleides: Prelude to War)
Now on a roll, don’t stop there. Next is that 10% often provided by distributors. Your story must continue strong to keep the reader going, and where a lot of what has already been presented and will be presented in this eFile series comes into play.
* Current figures are not readily available, therefore this is an estimate based on figures bantered about.